For any PC user, it’s important to have effective antivirus software installed. Besides protecting you against nefarious viruses and trojans, antivirus software also blocks spyware and can offer adequate protection against malware and adware.
In the past, antivirus software has been known for slowing down PCs due to its need to scan extensively on a regular basis. These days though, most software hardly makes a dent on your PC’s performance, while still providing protection.
Which antivirus software should you get though? You might think that you need to spend considerable money in order to get a great antivirus software package, but that’s not always the case. Plenty of free solutions now exist and are worth your time. They’re often made by the same manufacturers of paid solutions, such as Panda and Adaware. Various reports have demonstrated that detection rates and accuracy are nearly as high with free software as they are with paid. You’re not getting less of a valuable service here. At least, not in terms of spotting viruses, although paid software is sometimes a little smarter at spotting the loopholes.
Companies often reserve certain features for paying customers, though. This means that typically, free antivirus software offers fewer tools than their paid alternatives. For instance, you might find that the free antivirus software lacks phishing protection, or an on-demand malware scan, but if you’re willing to do a little of the work yourself, they’re still worth checking out. Paid antivirus software can be bulky and offer a bunch of features that you’re just never going to use. They typically lean heavier into the idea of being security suites rather than just for virus or malware detection. That’s great if you need those extra features, but not everyone does. If you feel confident using your PC and initiating scans yourself, a free alternative can be a good choice to make.
That’s not to say that free antivirus software is always limited either. Some programs still offer tools such as phishing protection or malicious URL blocking on top of key features like a vulnerability scan or behavioral malware detection.
Just don’t be surprised if technical support is a little more restrictive here. Usually, free antivirus software users need to fend for themselves, while paid solutions often provide some form of customer support over the phone. Remember though: you’re only ever a Google search away from learning so if you’re comfortable relying on knowledge bases or forums, then you have plenty of tech support at your fingertips.
If you’re fairly technically minded and you don’t need spam filters, extra firewalls, or other optional features, you can save plenty of money by opting for a free antivirus software solution.
So where do you start? Here’s a little introduction to some of the best free antivirus software out there. Okay with paying for a service? We’ve got that covered too.
BEST FOR MULTIPLE FEATURES
Plenty of great features • Effective antivirus detection • No slow down
Password manager is limited • Pressure to spend money on extra options
Most free antivirus software offer limited features but Avast bucks that trend with a little bit of everything. It’s an essential download.
1. Avast Free Antivirus
Avast tops that service up with plenty of useful extras. There’s an automatic gaming mode that mutes popups and reduces system load any time you’re playing a game. There’s a WiFi inspector that checks your network for any security issues before reporting back, and there’s a simple password manager. The latter is a little too rudimentary to recommend but it’s a useful bonus and better than nothing. Avast’s Online Security further adds to the light security software tools too, with it detecting unsafe websites and trackers.
It’s an impressively detailed piece of software given the non-existent price tag.
BEST HANDS-OFF ANTIVIRUS
High accuracy rate • Interface is simple to use • Reliable
Can’t schedule scans • Limited options
You get all of the antivirus aspects of the paid version, but none of the bonus features. It’s limited but highly effective.
2. Bitdefender Antivirus
Despite that, it’s an antivirus software that deserves to be highly recommended. It monitors any files coming in, as well as your browsing, and any potentially malicious phishing websites. Its interface is simple and clearly laid out, with minimal settings so it’s perfect for more inexperienced PC users who’d rather leave the hard work to the software.
Bitdefender’s hands-off approach won’t appeal to everyone and it is a little frustrating not being able to scan things specifically. However, that does mean that you have one less thing to worry about when it comes to security, and it’s ideal for people who aren’t tech savvy.
BEST FOR VIRUS DETECTION ACCURACY
Near flawless virus detection • Great malware blocking • Web security features
Limited phishing detection • Can be slow
AVG AntiVirus Free is near flawless with its ability to detect viruses and malware. It’s unlikely anything is getting through this.
3. AVG AntiVirus Free
AVG AntiVirus Free’s interface is similarly straight forward. It simply just works and is easy enough for even a child to figure out. It looks out for junk files too, in case of any issues there as well. The only downside is that if you use the Deep Virus Scan, things can run pretty slowly. It’s worth doing once in a while though. It makes up for it by speedily removing malware before you even have a chance to take it in.
Weirdly though, it’s not quite as paranoid when it comes to phishing sites, which is why Avastis a little better on that front. There is however a Web TuneUp plug-in that suggests when you’re visiting a website that’s risky or actively dangerous. Just don’t rely on it like you can with Avast. This is more about stopping irritating web trackers than anything more nefarious.
BEST FOR REMOTE MANAGEMENT PROTECTION
Business grade protection • Extra browser tools • Central management features
Can’t schedule scans • Limited options
If you need antivirus software that you can control remotely, Sophos Home Free is an unbeatable option.
4. Sophos Home Free
Running a lot like a cut down version of Sophos’s Premium edition, it’s possible to run a full system scan on your PC whenever you choose. There’s no quick scan button here like in the full version, but any form of manual scan is a bonus in a field that doesn’t always guarantee the feature. Sophos Home Free uses an original form of configuration in that it can only be done so remotely via the Sophos website. That’s an inconvenience when it’s on your PC but great for when you’re using it on your kid’s PC or an elderly relative’s setup. From anywhere in the world, you can set up real-time protection, web protection, and even utilize a download reputation service to filter content to that user’s PC. You can initiate a scan too if you’re concerned.
Since scans are only accessible via the Sophos site, it’s is a nuisance if you just want antivirus protection for one PC — your PC — but if you intend on using the same software across multiple systems and you’re contending with newbie users, it’s a fine way of keeping everyone safe at once.
BEST FOR USB PROTECTION
Great and varied features • Stylish interface • Central control
Limited settings • Affects system performance
Panda Free Antivirus has some useful features that other antivirus softwares lack, but expect a little knock to your system’s performance.
5. Panda Free Antivirus
One of its most useful tools is its ability to immunize your USB sticks. It scans your USB devices but goes one step further by making it impossible for any files on it to auto-launch — a common way for systems to be infected.
Elsewhere is the Process Monitor, which lists all the processes currently running on your PC and allows you to see exactly which ones have accessed the internet. It’s an extension of Windows’s Task Manager but a useful one for more technically minded folk. There’s also a Rescue Kit to help clear out any malware that has infiltrated your PC and stopped it from booting. Not that you should have any such issues while Panda is doing its job correctly.
There’s also the matter of Panda Free Antivirus looking pretty gorgeous. It’s stylish and calming with some delightful vistas to view, but that could also be why it has a greater impact on your PC than most, slowing things down a bit once it gets going. Fortunately, there’s a game mode that works much like Avast, ensuring your gaming sessions aren’t crippled.
BEST FOR EXTRA FIREWALL PROTECTION
Many useful security features • Comprehensive protection • Good results
Pushy about installing extra software • Slow at times
ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus isn’t just antivirus software, it’s also a comprehensive firewall and identity protection software tool. It’s good for those that want more than just virus removal.
6. ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus
The software is suitably responsible, detecting so much that you’ll soon be a little infuriated by the many alerts every time it blocks or deflects something. It’s also a little overly keen to install Yahoo! as your default search engine so keep an eye on the installation process.
Despite that, ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus has some neat functions in the form of its identity theft protection feature. It includes a free one-year subscription to Identity Guard’s Good Start plan, which offers daily monitoring of your credit bureau file, alerting you to any significant changes. It’s only available in the US but if you want an all-in-one solution to any security concerns, it’s worth trying out. There’s limited online backup functionality too.
Lab tests are a little thin on the ground for ZoneAlarm itself, but built on the Kaspersky engine, it’s a pretty solid example of antivirus protection. Kaspersky has been known to block 100% of threats frequently, so this is a solid mishmash of different features.
BEST FOR SANDBOX VIRTUALIZATION
Attractive interface • Features you can’t get elsewhere for free • Effective malware removal
Pushy about the upsell • Some features far from essential for average user
It does a good job of detecting viruses and malware, but some of its features are far from necessary for the regular user.
7. Comodo Antivirus
The software isn’t quite for everyone. Namely because it’s a little too eager about enticing you into paying up to unlock more features — something that could intimidate novice users. However, stick with it and there are some convenient features in there. Most notably, Comodo has consistently done a great job at removing malware as reported by PCMag. It was previously flakey with virus detection but that’s been much improved in the past year.
Still, it’s the sandbox virtualization that makes Comodo stand out in a crowded field. If you want to risk launching a program that you’re not sure about, you can launch it within the sandbox to see what happens. Any changes aren’t permanent so there’s no risk here. There’s also the option to open a fully virtualized desktop which is great for the overly curious. Is it something that everyone will use? Not at all. If you’re that suspicious of a program, you’re best off giving it a miss. However, for the more technically minded, Comodo may be worth a shot. Usually one has to pay for virtual sandboxing, so this is a convenient and free alternative.
You can also use Comodo Dragon to force a secure HTTPS connection for the current site you’re browsing, and receive a detailed report on all the data leaking from your system to theirs. It’s all fairly niche, but if you like to know exactly what’s going on, it’s worth pursuing. In addition, there’s a rescue disk feature much like Panda’s tools, in case the worst happens.
BEST FOR BUILT-IN VPN
Low impact on system • High accuracy • Useful extra features
Lots of pop ups • Nags about purchasing other version
If you want an antivirus software that offers more than just virus and malware detection, Avira Free Antivirus is useful for its holistic approach and inclusion of a VPN.
8. Avira Free Antivirus
You effectively have a security suite running for free. Besides detecting viruses and malware in real time, it also offers malicious website filtering and tracker blocking, albeit through browser extensions.
It’s easy enough to set up quick scans, custom scans, or anything else you’d expect from a paid alternative, and did we mention that rather useful VPN facility?
The only catch is that Avira Free Antivirus loves to nag. Numerous popups and ads appear, which is fair enough for free products, but it all gets a bit too incessant. It’s the kind of thing that’s going to mean you’ll only strongly consider this if a free VPN is a vital part of your security arsenal.